The history of Canadian horse racing is filled with famous Canadian race horses.

In the summer of 2017, while our entire nation is celebrating 150 years of confederation, the venerated Canadian horse racing industry will be boasting an even bigger milestone, the 250 year anniversary of our great sport in this great land (we now call Canada).

Canadian horse racing started on July 1, 1767, a century before Canada’s confederation, when a horse race in Lower Canada (Quebec) took place on The Plains of Abraham near Quebec City. The local  newspaper, Gazette de Quebec described what many people believe today was Canada’s first horse race,

“The horse race for a purse of forty dollars was held on Wednesday, first of the month, on the Hill of Abraham. It was easily won by Captain Prescott’s mare Modesty, much to the discomfiture of those who, purporting to know about such things, had wagered against her and were thereby parted from their money.”

Horse Canada magazine has just recently shed some ink documenting the Iconic Mare Modesty too,

Iconic Mare Modesty Named as 2017 Legend Honouree

The Canadian Encyclopedia entry on Thoroughbred racing states that ” …in 1771 horse racing was banned by Halifax authorities because they believed it turned the local citizenry into idle, immoral gamblers”, and it wasn’t until 1825 the Halifax Turf Club was formed and held its first meeting.

The Québec Turf Club was formed in 1789, and in 1836 the King’s Plate, a race for a purse of a hundred guineas was first held in Trois-Rivières. Entry was restricted to horses bred in Lower Canada at first, but in 1859 horses from Upper Canada were admitted. The next year the Queen’s Plate was held in Toronto for the first time. The Queen’s Plate has been held in Toronto every year since, making it the oldest continuing stakes race in North America; the Queen’s Plate is fifteen years older than the Kentucky Derby.

Canadian horse racing and its everlasting search for equestrian excellence is sewn into the fabric our nation.

From that Wednesday afternoon race near Quebec City in 1767 forward, the sport of horse racing has been part of the fabric of Canada. From coast to coast, for generation after generation, Canadians from all walks of life have participated in and enjoyed the Sport of Kings. Whether its on grass-root tracks, at agricultural fairs, or beside (and on top of) frozen rivers crisscrossing the countryside, or in today’s modern facilities, horse racing is etched into the memories and collective life experiences of every Canadian.

Montage of Canadian Race Horses, Northern Dancer, Secretariate

Above is small cross section the myriad champion Canadian race horses that have achieved glory in the last two and half centuries of Canadian horse racing.

Some famous Canadian race horses from the 1800s include,

Early Canadian race horse, Wild Dayrell, born 1852

Early Canadian race horse, Wild Dayrell, born 1852 – photo courtesy of the Canadian Horse Racing Hall of Fame.

Wild Dayrell, born 1852. This image is one of the oldest pictures of any Thoroughbred horse ever taken. This picture was captured when Dayrell was a three year old in 1855.  Our thanks to the Canadian Horse Racing Hall of Fame for allowing us to display this photograph.

Dayrell is only six generations back from Herod, and eight from the Godolphin Arabian. Wild Dayrell was a big, powerful brown horse standing 16.1 hands high and described as “one of the finest specimens of a racehorse” ever seen.

Some slightly lesser known but still famous Canadian race horses (less well known than Northern Dancer and Secretariat) include,

Nijinsky (1967 – 1992) was known in the US horse racing as Nijinsky II, was a Canadian-bred, Irish-trained Thoroughbred racehorse and sire. He was the outstanding two-year-old in Europe in 1969 when he was unbeaten in five races. In the following season he became the first horse for thirty-five years to win the English Triple Crown.

The Minstrel (1974 – 1990) was Europe’s Horse of the Year in 1977. He was a dazzling chestnut with a large blaze and four white stockings, a chunky, muscular colt who became a blur when he launched his hell-bent-for-victory finishes. As a two-year-old The Minstrel was unbeaten in three races including the Dewhurst Stakes, but lost two of his first three starts in 1977. He was then moved up in distance and won his remaining three races: the Epsom Derby, the Irish Derby and the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes.

Dance Smartly (1988–2007) was a Champion Thoroughbred who went undefeated in 1991 while winning the Canadian Triple Crown and becoming the first horse bred in Canada to ever win a Breeders’ Cup race. She was inducted into both the Canadian and American Racing Halls of Fame.

Canadian Horse Racing Hall of Fame

In 2017, the Canadian Horse Racing Hall of Fame has teamed up with Canadian Thoroughbred Horse Society, and Standardbred Canada to create a series of celebrations of this spectacular milestone throughout 2017.

In February they announced the launch of the ‘250 miles for 250 years’ initiative, alongside the 250th Anniversary of Horse Racing in Canada funding campaign. Racetracks, training centres, agricultural societies, communities, farms and fans were invited to take part in honouring Canada’s racing history by hosting a commemorative mile.

Ways to honour of the 250th Anniversary could include,

  • Hold a 250th Anniversary race day highlighting your track and community’s racing history and feature a race and special cooler presentation in honour of the 250th Anniversary.
  • Post parades or exhibition races using antique race bikes and buggies harkening back to days gone by.
  • Participate in a community parade with a float or entry that represents local horse racing history. The miles of the parade can count as commemorative miles.
  • Hold an open house at your training centre or farm, invite the public to visit and experience what horse racing is all about, display memorabilia and trophies representing your
    accomplishments and history, offer rides around the training track, hold stick horse races for the kids.
  • Contact your local agricultural society about participating in this year’s fair or festival and help them showcase the role horse racing has played in your community.

The events that registered would be sent special 250th Anniversary kits containing 250th Anniversary logos and press release templates. These special events would also be publicized on the 250th Anniversary pages of the CHRHF website, as well as the special 250th Anniversary social media feeds using #cdnhorseracing250.

To help you with your event, you will be, and much more.

In order to make this a truly national celebration, we need your help to fund the initiatives. To date industry associations HBPA Ontario, COSA, Harness Racing BC and the Canadian Horse Racing Hall of Fame have agreed to contribute funds to the 250th Anniversary efforts and we are working with other industry organizations across Canada to help meet our fundraising goals. We invite you to take a look at how you can become a 250th Anniversary of Horse Racing Celebration supporter as a sponsor or by making a tax deductible donation. Follow this link for complete details.

Watch for upcoming announcements for details of local launch events at racetracks across Canada.